Australian Medical Association President Dr. Omar Khorshid says state governments are not doing enough to protect those quarantined against coronavirus
Continued hotel quarantine leaks are “a frustration for all Australians” and state governments are not doing enough to prevent it, said the president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr. Omar Khorshid, as the prime minister of Western Australia appealed to the federal government to “Intensify and help”.
Authorities revealed that a new community case was detected on Saturday – a man in his 40s – when the Perth and Peel region of WA began a sudden three-day blockade after the latest hotel quarantine outbreak. The virus spread through the corridors of the Mercure quarantine hotel in Perth, infecting a man who was staying alongside a couple with the virus that had returned from India.
The man had tested negative before returning home to Victoria, spending time in locations in Perth – and infecting a friend. He has been staying in a Victorian “health hotel” for international arrivals with Covid-19 since Thursday, before his positive test returns on Friday morning. Victorian authorities are contacting people who were on the same flight from Perth to Melbourne as the man.
Speaking to Guardian Australia about the blockade in Perth, Khorshid said: “The best way to avoid blocking is to avoid violations of the hotel’s quarantine and, unfortunately, state governments are not doing absolutely everything that can be done to protect these facilities and the people among them.
“The main example of this would be the report commissioned by the WA government after the last breach here, which identified the spread of the virus by aerosol as the most likely problem. Subsequently, an engineering review of the hotels was carried out over a few months, with the Mercure hotel identified as unsuitable for the purpose for which it has been in use for just a week. Ventilation in these hotels was not adequate. “
Khorshid said that the Australian Medical Association was informed that hotel quarantine workers were still not always using the appropriate levels of personal protective equipment when exposed to Covid-positive patients, and that positive patients were not being kept in separate sections of the rooms. negatives hotels.
“Victoria does that, but Western Australia does not,” said Khorshid. “We also understand that there are still several quarantine workers who have not been vaccinated. Therefore, there are a number of very simple measures that can be taken and have not been taken and that are increasing the risk. “
Khorshid said the big question is whether the hotel’s quarantine should be used.
“We said from the start that it was not an appropriate long-term emergency measure,” said Khorshid. “It has been extremely successful in protecting Australia, but it is not perfect. These hotels were never designed for that purpose. And I believe that there is a growing perception in the community that we need some other solution. “
Premier WA Mark McGowan defended the system, saying on Saturday: “The hotel quarantine is an imperfect system, but it largely worked well, with some 45,000 Australians who returned being prosecuted through the Western Australia system. “
But he agreed with Khorshid that the system was not adequate.
“I’ve been asking the community for quarantine assistance for many months,” said McGowan.
“CBD hotels are not suitable for quarantine facilities, and quarantine is the responsibility of the community government under the constitution. There are a number of community facilities that would be best suited for quarantine purposes. The pandemic will last at least the rest of this year. It is time for the community to step forward and help.
“I already said and will say it again, we pay for these hotels. State governments, not the community, are bearing the costs of these hotel quarantine facilities. “
He said that no new cases of community transmission were identified overnight and that a total of 24 guests were on the affected floor of the Mercure hotel. Five guests left Australia. The remaining 19 were tested and 18 negative. The only positive point is the Victorian man. On Saturday, Victoria’s health officials said the state’s nearly two months of zero local coronavirus cases were not closed by the case because it was acquired interstate.
The WA Department of Health later confirmed that a positive test result had been returned on Saturday afternoon. The person was tested on Friday because he attended a location also visited by the Victorian case, the department said in a statement.
Khorshid said the hotel’s quarantine facility in Howard Springs, Northern Territory, was the only one that seemed “fit for purpose”. Although he acknowledged that the Northern Territory was not receiving the volume of international travelers like other states, it was “a very good model for what we need going forward”. At the Howard Springs facility, people are kept further apart, reducing the risk of spreading between rooms through hallways or ventilation.
Howard Springs’ deactivated mining camp has gradually increased its capacity in recent weeks to receive 15% of people arriving on repatriation flights – up to 2,000 Australians every fifteen days. The rooms are individual accommodations, with no internal communication doors between the rooms.
McGowan asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison if the state could halve the number of weekly international arrivals next month, from 1,025 to 512.
“Howard Springs is a facility suitable for its purpose,” said Khorshid. “Everything that can be done in a hotel quarantine needs to be done now and, unfortunately, in Western Australia, as in some other states, this is not the case. There are still holes that can be plugged and the latest outbreak report highlighted some of the things that need to be done in WA. “
Personal protective equipment should be taken more seriously, patients should be separated from other people, and all workers should be vaccinated, he said.
“Facilities like the Mercure Hotel, which have been identified as inappropriate, should not be used,” said Khorshid. “The last block in WA occurred because a security guard was sitting in a corridor and was not wearing a surgical mask, much less any other form of PPE.”
People who had been staying at the Mercure hotel have now been sent elsewhere. On Saturday, Victoria’s Covid-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said the four household contacts of the Covid-positive man have tested negative. Of 265 people who had been on the flight with him from WA or who had worked as ground crew for the flight, 200 have been tested and 49 have returned negative tests.
New Zealand, which last week opened a trans-Tasman travel bubble, on Friday announced a pause on travel from WA due to the Perth outbreak.
NSW Health has announced it will screen all flights from Perth to identify those who had visited WA venues of concern. Meanwhile, NSW Health said all 15 Sydney dock workers who boarded a ship, the Inge Kosan, that had Covid-positive crew members on board have tested negative for the virus.
“NSW will reflect home stay restrictions that apply to Western Australia,” NSW Health said in a statement.
Tasmania declared Perth and Peel to be high-risk regions, with quarantine and travel rules imposed on those entering the state and who may have been in those regions.
The Northern Territory has also declared COVID-19 hotspots from Perth and the Peel region.
Queensland starting at midnight will require any resident who has been in Perth or Peel since April 17 to enter the hotel’s quarantine for up to 14 days, while non-residents will require an exemption to enter and must also be quarantined. Anyone entering Queensland before midnight must obtain a Covid test and remain at home until 2 am on April 27, leaving only for essential reasons after receiving a negative test.